It’s been two months since the blog last checked in on the Patrick administration’s strict new rules for emergency shelter for homeless families. The new rules close the door to shelter to nearly all the families whose very low incomes (which average about $700 a month) might allow them to qualify in the first place. Families who have no other housing, who have no options for staying doubled-up with other families or friends, and who have no other place to stay even temporarily are not eligible for shelter unless and until the parents and the children first stay in a place “not meant for human habitation,” like a train station, a park or a car.
Since then, we have heard about the casualties of the new policy on the radio and in newpapers, including the front page of the Boston Globe. Since then, hundreds of people turned out at hearings in Springfield and in Boston to support beleaguered homeless families and social services providers as they try (yet again) to convince the administration that “pretending there are fewer homeless people because you are allowing fewer homeless people into shelter is shameful.” And since then, the average nighttime temperature in Boston has fallen from 57 to 38 degrees.
A line from a Robert Frost poem goes — “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Yet not everyone has such a place, a fact the Administration does not want to recognize. As Yvonne Abraham put it in her Globe story, state officials seem “entirely wedded to the notion that almost everybody has somewhere to stay, even when they say they don’t.”
In an effort to add to the number of places where “they have to take you in” (and thereby to shore up the current harsh eligibility rules for shelter), the administration recently sent a letter to the officials who administer the state’s public housing. The state’s new shelter policies, the letter explains, “may necessitate that families seek or maintain low-cost or informal housing situations which can include families sharing apartments or living in doubled up situations for a period of time.” The letter goes on to imply that our public housing residents, two-thirds of whom are elderly or disabled and all of whom are poor, will recognize the “urgency of the situation” and will want to share their very modest quarters with others, and that the state’s public housing officials, who pay the bills, will be on board with the plan as well. (If you’re curious about the impact on utilities, indoor water use is about 69 gallons per day per person, according to the American Waterworks Association.)
Can’t our state do better than to deny this crisis of homelessness and then to burden the poor, the elderly and the disabled with it? What if we had a leader willing to change course when a policy is manifestly not working? A leader who believes that “in times like these we should turn to each other, not on each other”? A leader for whom responsibility for others is something to be shared by all and to whom generosity comes naturally?
[Think the state can do better for homeless families? Join the call-in day on Tuesday 11/20, organized by Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless. Details here.]